General Use In Sports
Basketball is a particularly easy medium for shaving points because of the scoring tempo of the game and the ease by which one player can influence key events. By deliberately missing shots or committing well-timed turnovers or fouls, a corrupt player can covertly ensure that his team fails to cover the point spread, without causing them to lose the game (or to lose so badly that suspicions are aroused). Although the NCAA has adopted a zero tolerance policy with respect to gambling activity by its players, some critics believe it unwittingly encourages point shaving due to its strict rules regarding amateurism, combined with the large amount of money wagered on its games. The NCAA has produced posters warning of this, the most notable being an athlete sitting alone on a bench with his face buried in his hands (although this may also look like the athlete suffered a tremendous defeat) with the caption "DO NOT BET ON IT" with warnings as to what could happen if they are involved in such a plan (as well as an athlete being caught gambling himself).
Famous examples of this are the CCNY Point Shaving Scandal of the 1950-51 and the Boston College basketball point shaving scandal of 1978-79, which was perpetrated by gangsters Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke.
The technique has been used by both amateur and professional athletes in many other sports. The intention is to manipulate scoring so that the final score results in a predetermined outcome. A typical sports game should always tend to behave in a nondeterministic manner. In other words, the exact final score of a game exists in a set which can contain more than a thousand possible combinations. Furthermore, nondeterminism suggests that the final score of a sports game is practically unpredictable.
Many variables can influence the outcome. Such variables include weather, fatigue, and human error. However, amateur and professional athletes who are very skilled in the technique of point shaving can consistently create unlikely outcomes in bad weather and other challenging conditions. These unlikely outcomes tend to create huge financial gains/losses in prediction markets.
The deviation from the mean, otherwise known as the expected value, is what makes these outcomes so unlikely. In many cases of point shaving, the expected value is equivalent to a scoring differential; and, this scoring differential is most commonly known as a point spread. Additionally, the deviation in the final outcome can be quite large. Many times, the deviation is so large that athletes on opposing teams must cooperate in order to achieve the desired result. In this particular case, the final outcome is commonly referred to as a thrown game.
In the past, small bookies saw large profits in small point shaving schemes; however, the conspiracy has reached new levels in present day sports. According to the 1999 Gambling Impact Study, an estimated $80 billion to $380 billion was illegally bet each year on sporting events in the United States. This estimate dwarfed the $2.5 billion legally bet each year in Nevada.
Unfortunately, such an enormous amount of illegal activity makes organized sports a likely candidate for corruption. On August 15, 2007, an NBA referee, Tim Donaghy, plead gulity to two felonies related to wagering on games that he officiated. And despite providing strict regulations for its participants, organized sports has shown little to no interest in legalizing the sports gambling industry which continues to remain highly unregulated and illegal for the most part in the United States.
In Popular Culture
In Season 5, Episode 2 of The Sopranos ("The Rat Pack"), Bobby Baccalieri stated that point shaving had been invented by fictional mob boss Carmine Lupertazzi during a 1951 game between CCNY and Kentucky.